There will always be wags criticizing the Church for this issue or that. A healthy criticism can help focus one’s attention on improvement where needed. And there will always be those who not only criticize but attack the Church, never missing an opportunity to heap malice upon a cynical view.

If you want a clearer comment on the Catholic Church, ask the people who are preparing to join it. Since almost 895 of them are in their final stages of preparation before entering the Church or becoming full members, you’ll have your work cut out.

They are likely to articulate reasons for their faith rooted in the love of Jesus, head of the Church, in which they are making a commitment to join. Talk to the folks in the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in your parish (and pray for them). They’ll offer powerful testimony of a clear-eyed, mature Christian faith that they are choosing to proclaim and live as Catholics.

And they’re not alone. In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 11,000 faithful people over the past 10 years have either become baptized in the faith for the first time or received their remaining sacraments of initiation, communion and confirmation as well as penance.

These adult Catholics and their newly baptized infant brothers and sisters are contributing to a trend of growth in the Church worldwide. This week the Vatican published statistics from the end of 2008 showing the number of Catholics reached 1.166 billion, up 19 million from the previous year. The percentage of Catholics of the global population now stands at 17.4, up from 17.33 percent in 2007.

As an aside, the number of priests ordained worldwide in 2008 rose by 1,142 to 409,166. The number of seminarians in the world also rose to 117,024, up one percent for the year.

Cynics we will always have with us, but their claims in the media and in conversation of a Church in irrevocable decline ring hollow. The Catholic Church for all its gifts and faults continues to march in a steady pace of growth in its earthly journey. Families welcome new members and pass on the gift of faith in Jesus through His Church. Adults consciously choose to claim the gifts and responsibilities of membership in the Church.

The bride of Christ, referred to as Mother church, continues to bring her children in increasing numbers through the challenges of life and safely home to God. That’s something for Catholics to talk about, and for everyone to take notice.